PEABODY — Community support continues to pour in for the family of Peabody Firefighter James Rice, who died battling a fire at 5 Hancock St. two days before Christmas.
The latest sign of respect reaches the Rice family from Foxborough, where his wife Amy, children Alyssa, Katelyn and Ryan, and brother-in-law Brian Goldsworthy will be guests of the New England Patriots for tomorrow night's AFC playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium (8 p.m.).
The Rice family will have field passes before the contest begins, hanging on the field with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and will watch the game in front row club seats.
Twelve-year-old Alyssa, 9-year-old Katelyn and 7-year-old Ryan will also be the Patriots' honorary captains for the game.
"They were excited to be going to the game, and to go on the field is really cool," Goldsworthy said of the children's reaction. "To go out on the field and see the players and to meet Mr. Kraft was something that jumped out to them."
Thousands of mourners, including firefighters from all over the country, turned out for Rice's funeral procession through Peabody Square Dec. 30.
Shortly after Rice's funeral, Peabody police officer Justin Cecil and ATF Agent Eric Kotchian had a conversation that led to them reaching out to the Patriots.
"We were talking about going to games with our parents, realizing that they wouldn't have that anymore (with Jim)," Cecil said. "I know the Patriots held a moment of silence for Jim at another game, but we reached out to (Patriots Vice President of Media Relations) Stacey James. It turned out better than we expected."
Eric Kotchian, two years younger than Jim, played football with him at St. John's Prep.
"Initially I was hoping we could get them four tickets to the game and maybe (get the Rices) recognized in the stands. I thought maybe they could pay tribute to them by putting their picture on the giant screen," Kotchian said.
Cecil and Kotchian both emailed James, and James eventually got back to Kotchian to work out the details. James told Kotchian that when Kraft got involved, that's when the honorary captain idea came about.
James told Kotchian about that last night.
"That came as a total shock to me," Kotchian said. "It's a dream come true for everybody.
"It's awesome what the Kraft Family has done for the Rice Family. It speaks to Mr. Kraft's class. I was thanking Stacey James on the phone and he said, 'Don't thank me, thank Bob.'"
According to Goldsworthy, the 42-year-old Rice was a Patriots season-ticket holder and "never missed a game."
Rice had season tickets with three friends, including his best friend and fellow firefighter Jay Dowling, who carried Rice's helmet in the funeral procession. They are going to the game, but leaving Rice's seat unoccupied — Dowling will be putting Rice's helmet there instead.
Virtually everything is taken care of for the Rice family tomorrow. Cecil and Kotchian are expected to bring the tickets to Amy in the morning, and Michael's Limousine of Peabody will be providing the transportation.
"It's really been amazing, not only the people but the businesses and the city itself," Goldsworthy said of the outpouring of support that the Rice's have received.
"Something like this is a tribute to the sacrifice Jim made and how important it was and that it didn't go unnoticed. It's another reminder that people really appreciate what Jim did for us."